It’s as hard to imagine a more important presidential election as it is to envy its winner. “Winner” might, however, be more appropriate given the daunting reality with which either Barack Obama or John McCain will be confronted come November 5th. The question we must thus confront is which candidate is better prepared to deal with this reality. Few doubt that making this judgment is made all the more difficult by those pundits who substitute character assassination, innuendo, question-begging, and guilt by association for a careful analysis of Obama’s positions and worldviews. But we should be just as insulted by the pandering, distorted, and manipulated promotion of John McCain. AND VICE VERSA. Since when did we become so politically illiterate that we can no longer be presented with arguments, but are only capable of digesting the pabulum of “talking points”? This deterioration of the public square has, moreover, been made all the easier by a gradual but unmistakable turn over the last eight years towards the anti-intellectualism represented in the appeal to “six pack Joe” and now to “hockey moms.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming that there aren’t plenty of “Joes” and “moms” who make thinking choices in the voting booth. I come from just these people, people who didn’t have the benefit of college educations but who strove to educate themselves and who took it to be a moral responsibility to understand their world. But while my childhood was pervaded by the idea that we could do better than our parents, that this “doing better” wasn’t just about making money but about contributing to our communities, our society, to the production of knowledge and to new ideas, it’s clear that in our current political culture the only “knowledge” that counts is that which conforms to a worldview dominated at once by religious exclusion and corporate greed. No comfortable bedfellows. Indeed, the irony of the far right is that for every deregulation of the so-called “free” market we can count on the further regulation of our constitutional liberties, especially first amendment rights. Hence it’s no surprise that some Democrats and many Republicans voted against the bailout—but for very different reasons. While Republicans cling to the absurd doctrine that the “free” market’s benefits trickle down from the few to the many, dissenting Democrats like Dennis Kucinich get that this ideological gruel guarantees precisely what we now have: a disparity of wealth wider than any other industrialized nation’s (rawstory.com/news/2008/Kucinich).
Our current president rose to power as the man with whom the “average Joe” could identify. Sadly, however, this never meant that the president need have any genuine interest in the lives, needs, or economic struggles of this citizen. It meant that so long as citizens share the right ideology—in this case one that replaces patriotism with “your either with us or against us,” the value of education with “elitism,” choice with the double-speak of “pro-life,” torture with “extraordinary rendition,” the theory of evolution with “creation science,” and now welfare for Wall Street with “economic recovery package”—the average Joe or Josephine is welcome to an America where voting out of fear and ignorance somehow makes you a patriot. No politician epitomizes the dumbing down of the electorate better than Sarah Palin whose cutey-pie winking, abominable grammar, and constitutional illiteracy evokes Bush’s own. “Six-pack Joe” and “Hockey mom” ought to be insulted to be so used. This election matters, and we must all vote our conscience. But conscience uninformed by knowledge and critical thinking is neither virtuous nor “cute.” It’s just ignorant. We must do better.
Wendy Lynne Lee